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Justine Ezarik has seen the TikTok memes about her, and she’s jealous of them.
The 37-year-old Los Angeles creator is a mainstay of YouTube culture. Known as iJustine, Ezarik has been active on the platform for more than 15 years — since 2006 — one year after YouTube was founded. Ezarik had influence online years before the term “influencer” was added to the dictionary and before becoming one was kids’ dream job.
Her years-old content has found new life and fans on TikTok, as users have ripped her old YouTube videos and re-uploaded clips to TikTok, often making fun of the videos, which are now archaic by internet standards.
But Ezarik doesn’t mind the jabs — she thinks they’re funny.
“There are tons of them,” Ezarik told Insider. “I was just laughing so hard because it was like, these people are so creative. They’re coming up with like these captions. I am myself and I can’t even come up with content this good.”
Some of the videos are fancams — complied clips of celebrities popularized by K-pop fans — strung together with flashy edits set to upbeat music. Others are short clips of her old content, like her music video parodies of Kesha’s appropriately titled 2009 track “Tik Tok” and “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas from the same year.
Ezarik’s “I Gotta Feeling” parody — uploaded more than a decade ago — is her most popular YouTube video. More than 18 million people over the past 12 years have watched the video of her trying to get the perfect profile picture.
The song parodies were an attempt to garner a larger YouTube audience, Ezarik said. They were once a popular form of entertainment on YouTube from an era before Spotify and Apple Music when streaming music online wasn’t easy or legal.
She typically wrote, filmed, and edited those videos n the span of 24 hours with the help of her sister Jenna, often pulling all-nighters to produce them. Her strategy depended on people stumbling across her parodies while looking for actual songs.
“A lot of that stuff, I’ve always wanted to make private because they are clearly incredibly embarrassing,” Ezarik said. “I’ve always just like left them there because it really feels like a piece of history and it shows: Okay, I started here, I went here, and it kind of shows that journey.”
An Apple obsession leads to a viral online persona
Ezarik’s online personality started at an early age with video games. She’d frequent online gaming parties called LAN parties, often logging in from a cyber cafe in Pittsburgh, where she was born and raised when her home internet speeds were insufficient.
Ezarik used male names because she was afraid other players would judge her if they knew she was a girl.
“And then at some point, I was like, I’m sick of hiding who I am like, this is, this is absolutely stupid,” she said. “Then I just changed.”
iJustine was inspired by her first iPod, which she got as a teenager in 2002, a year after the product was first released.
Many of the viral TikToks parody Ezarik’s over-the-top obsession with Apple and its co-founder, the late Steve Jobs. In her early videos, Ezarik said she portrayed an “extended version” of herself “who was obviously super crazy.” In a January 2007 video, she uploaded a 27-second video, claiming Jobs asked her to marry him during the Macworld event where he introduced the first iPhone.
In February 2009, she uploaded a grainy video from a webcam from a computer in an Apple Store singing the late CEO “Happy Birthday” — and consequently pioneered the early YouTube trend of publicly dancing at the Apple Store.
“I started doing it to make people laugh and to be silly,” she said. “I mean, dancing at the Apple Store is like the dumbest thing ever, but I was amused. Everyone else thought it was funny.”
TikTok users have revived a longstanding rumor that Jobs had once taken out a restraining order against her.
“Can’t confirm or deny,” Ezarik said, laughing.
Ezarik said reading books about Steve Jobs gave her the “confidence and the motivation to just think differently because the things that I liked weren’t in the norm.”
“The first time that I ever heard that phrase ‘Think Different,’ I was like, ‘wait, I don’t have to do all of this stuff that these other girls are doing or what everyone expects is me,'” she said, referring to Apple’s famous 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign. “And so I’ve kind of lived by that motto most of my life.”
Few YouTubers have lasted as long as Ezarik, who had ditched 9-5 jobs for a career online. Even fewer have maintained an audience across social media — she has nearly 7 million YouTube subscribers — while continuing to upload videos to the platform that skyrocketed them to viral fame.
Ezarik credits her longevity to her love for making content, which hasn’t waned. Her videos as iJustine have evolved from musical parodies to product reviews and demos. She’s not just all about Apple anymore, Ezarik said. She’s a big fan of Microsoft, too.
A new age in tech but familiar pressures for content creators
Online culture has drastically shifted in the 15 years since Ezarik uploaded the first iJustine video (a montage of her heating up and eating instant oatmeal in an office), and it’s changed for the better, Ezarik said. Taboos about being a digital creator have largely vanished — it’s cool to film videos now, she said. It’s fun to make a TikTok.
Stigmas about girls in tech have also tapered off.
“It’s cool to just sort of see a lot of like younger girls getting into technology, becoming coders, becoming editors,” Ezarik said.
But not everything has changed. Ezarik said the popularity of TikTok reminded her of the early days of YouTube when content was less serious, wasn’t filmed on 4K cameras, and was more about “immediacy” and jumping on new trends. Watching it can be addicting, she said.
The old pressures to constantly produce new and fresh content haven’t gone away either.
Creators have more recently opened up about burnout and challenges they face to constantly make content for their legions of followers while balancing other responsibilities, like managing lucrative brand deals, as The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz reported earlier this year.
Ezarik said she’d rarely been open to talking about burnout, but she felt it throughout her career. In the early days of her YouTube stardom, she’d take a random break but only after creating extra videos in advance to make it appear as though she was still online.
“It definitely took hitting rock bottom a few times to be like: ‘I can’t physically keep doing what I’m doing,'” she said.
Eventually, she developed a hobby unrelated to creating content — Jujitsu. It was pivotal to maintaining her mental health. She kept the hobby off the internet only until recently so she could keep it for herself. She recommends the new generation of TikTok stars and influencers try something similar.
“Taking those breaks and taking time for yourself is something that took me way too long to figure out,” Ezarik added. “You may lose views for a while, but you are the most important thing. If you’re not there, and you’re not present, and you’re not in the right mindset, then you’re not going to be able to create content that is entertaining and you’re not going to be into it.”
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